A wild crocodile that had a tyre stuck around its neck for six years has finally been free by a heroic Indonesian villager who lured it into a trap.
Officials and local residents confirmed on Tuesday the beast had been freed from its rubber vice and released back into the wild.
Conservation workers have been trying to lure the stricken saltwater crocodile from a river since 2016 after residents of Palu city on Sulawesi island spotted the animal with a motorbike tyre wrapped around its neck.
But it was a local resident who snared the 17 foot long reptile, who was regularly seen sunbathing in the Palu river in Central Sulawesi, from its tight squeeze late on Monday, with pictures capturing the daring rescue.
Tili, a 34-year-old bird-seller, used chicken as bait and ropes to catch the animal at the end of what he said was a three-week rescue effort, before dozens of locals helped to drag the crocodile to shore and cut the tyre around its neck.
‘I just wanted to help, I hate seeing animals trapped and suffering,’ Tili, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, told AFP news agency in Tuesday.
His first two attempts to rescue the croc failed because the ropes were not strong enough to contend with its weight, he said, before turning to nylon ropes used for tugging boats.
‘I was already exhausted so I let them finish the rescue, the crocodile was unbelievably heavy, everybody was sweating and getting very tired.’
The crocodile was released back into the water immediately after the rescue to relieved cheers from locals.
Conservationists believe someone may have deliberately placed the tyre around the croc’s neck in a failed attempt to trap it as a pet in the archipelago nation that is home to several species of the animal.
Tili beat the authorities to the capture because they lacked the proper equipment for a rescue in the river that houses more than 30 other crocodiles.
‘Yesterday was a historical day for us, we are grateful the crocodile was finally rescued and we appreciate the locals who showed concern for the wildlife,’ Hasmuni Hasmar, head of the local conservation agency, told AFP.
In February 2020, the local government promised a reward to anyone who caught the croc and removed the tyre from the beast.
However, they later called off the contest over fears it could endanger its safety, and after they were unable to find a would-be crocodile wrangler take up the challenge of removing the tyre.
The country’s ‘pluck a tyre off the croc’ contest was rolled out in January 2020, and made headlines when an unspecified reward was offered.
The local conservation agency offered few details about the reward – or how outsiders might pull off the dangerous task – but its chief said at the time the money would come out of his own pocket.
The local conservation agency said Tili is in line for a prize after his daring plan paid off. ‘We will award Tili for his effort in rescuing the wildlife,’ Hasmar said.
Wildlife officials and conservationists were especially concerned that the tyre could strangle the crocodile if it was not removed urgently, and have been trying – and failing – for years to find a way to untangle the animal.
Fears for its safety intensified when a video showed the creature apparently gasping for air in 2018. Despite fears for its safety at the time, the crocodile was able to survive for another four years.